The Haili Church Choir began in 1902 under Harry K Naope, Sr, at the Kalepolepo Chapel, one of the seven branches of the Haili Church.
Naope was a music teacher in the public schools, and received his training in music at Lahainaluna Seminary on the island of Maui. He and Albert Nahale-a, Sr., Minister of Music, helped to create a viable, exciting, and rich choral agenda, in demand for community events.
Until the advent of church choirs, Hawaiian children learned to sing and play instruments from their parents and grandparents at home. Music was an essential part of family devotions, common in Old Hawai‘i.
At that time, the church was the foremost educational facility for most Hawaiians, and congregational singing was their first music “school.” (Haili Church)
The most musically talented adults and young people moved into the choir when it was formed. The majority of them could neither read nor write music, but they had excellent memorization abilities, learned from the intensive person-to-person training received at home.
The result of professional choir training under Naope was the development of not only many famous singers, but conductors and composers, as well. Helen Desha Beamer was, for many early years, Haili church organist.
Since the beginning of the 1900s, it has been the ‘training school’ for some of Hawai`i’s foremost names in traditional Hawaiian music, both sacred and secular.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, church choirs were instrumental in the development of Hawaiian music. While they are not the oldest, nor was the choir officially named until 1909, the Haili Choir, because of its performance outreach, became the most prominent.
Unlike the choirs of today, Harry K Naope, Sr (grandfather of George Naope) had only one sheet of music from which to teach his choir members. He copied the music onto large sheets of butcher-type paper, and tacked these sheets to the walls of the Sunday school rooms. Choir members were required to memorize the songs from these sheets.
Also, because of the unreliability of the church’s pump organ and the lack of trained organists (most of whom were pianists), Naope wrote out and taught both sacred and secular compositions, and his translations of English songs into the Hawaiian language.
Thus, the Haili Choir learned, and became known for their A Capella singing, (without instrumental accompaniment) in the Hawaiian language.
Among the early Haili Choir notables to gain professional reputations were Joseph Kalima, Sr. and his sons (“The Hilo Kalimas”), Enoch “Bunny” Brown and His Hilo Hawaiians, Kihei Brown and his trio, the Nathaniel Sisters, the Brown Sisters, and falsetto star George Kainapau.
Generations of family musical groups also grew up in the Haili Choir, and their descendants today are well known: the Beamer family, the Browns, the Deshas, Punohus, Nahale-as.
Today’s Haili Church Choir is most often accompanied by piano, organ or other stringed instruments, although they still sometimes sing A Capella. (Lots of information here is from Haili Church and Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.)
Haili Church Choir sing E Kuu Lei Lehua https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xas-ZD3o3xM
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Bowman Olds says
I shall never forget Haili Church with Reverend Akaka. I was a teenage newspaper boy for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Reverend Akaka was one of my many customers. My newspaper route was from Waiakea to the area up mauka in the cane fields. Haili Church was the halfway point on my route and Reverend Akaka seeing how tired I was would always have a soda or juice for me and was concerned about how I was doing. I shall never forget his kindness and warm aloha spirit.